Review: Hush by Dylan Farrow

This month, I’m reading a mix of scary books (tis the season) and Pride & Prejudice-related books (because that’s where we are with our Austen book club). I took another break from my planned books to read this YA-fantasy debut, newly released this month, and I will say, it was a pleasant diversion.

What it’s about

From the Goodreads blurb:

Seventeen-year-old Shae has led a seemingly quiet life, joking with her best friend Fiona, and chatting with Mads, the neighborhood boy who always knows how to make her smile. All while secretly keeping her fears at bay… Of the disease that took her brother’s life. Of how her dreams seem to bleed into reality around her. Of a group of justice seekers called the Bards who claim to use the magic of Telling to keep her community safe.

When her mother is murdered, she can no longer pretend.

Not knowing who to trust, Shae journeys to unlock the truth, instead finding a new enemy keen to destroy her, a brooding boy with dark secrets, and an untold power she never thought possible.

My thoughts

A lot of the reviews I’ve seen for this book, both positive and negative, mention the author’s fame… I can honestly say that I didn’t realize that she was that Dylan Farrow until I was well in to the story. I’m not sure it matters—she might have had an easier time getting a deal than others, considering she’s from a talented and well-known family, but Farrow has written a solid debut and a memorable introduction into a fascinating new world.

The world building is strong in this book: Farrow takes time to really bring the reader into her dark dystopian world where many are oppressed and few possess magic. Most of the book is devoted to introducing this unique world, and there is more than enough groundwork here to build a good series on.

That said, the magic system itself isn’t very clearly defined, and some of the characters are one-dimensional. I hope that more time will be spent in future books on developing all of the characters and providing more information about how the magic works. Just as I was feeling comfortable, the plot took off quickly and the ending seemed a bit rushed.

Overall, this is a good debut novel… YA without being annoying about it, with some great fantasy elements. I’m looking forward to reading more in this series.

Thanks to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for my free copy in exchange for this honest review.


Review: Jack by Marilynne Robinson

I had no idea there was another book coming for Robinson’s stellar Gilead series until shortly before this book released, but I was thrilled to get an ARC of Jack.

What it’s about:

From the Goodreads blurb:

Jack tells the story of John Ames Boughton, the beloved, erratic, and grieved-over prodigal son of a Presbyterian minister in Gilead, Iowa. In segregated St. Louis sometime after World War II, Jack falls in love with Della Miles, an African American high school teacher who is also the daughter of a preacher―discerning, generous, and independent. Their fraught, beautiful romance is one of Robinson’s greatest achievements.

The Gilead novels are about the dilemmas and promise of American history―about the ongoing legacy of the Civil War and the enduring impact of both racial inequality and deep-rooted religious belief. They touch the deepest chords in our national character and resonate with our deepest feelings.

While the original three novels of the Gilead series can probably be read as standalones, I always recommend reading them in order for the beautiful way that Robinson developed the various characters through each book. While one could read this book without having read any other novels in the series, I’m really not sure if I would have appreciated Jack nearly as much if I hadn’t already read Home.

My thoughts:

Marilynne Robinson is a gifted writer. Her prose is fantastic and quiet, and her books have evoked so many feelings for me. Jack is, as expected, a beautifully told, simple story. Jack Boughton, who we got to know well in Home, is a complex character who frustrates the hell out of me while also charming my socks off (I, for one, understand the appeal for Della) and making my heart hurt. The story is told in third person, but Robinson still manages to take us deep inside Jack’s troubled mind. I don’t understand him any more than I did after reading Home, but I still feel like I know him better. Della is more of a mystery to the reader, but she’s so smart and determined, it’s impossible not to admire her.

The book is set before the events of Home, sometime shortly after WWII in segregated St. Louis, where Jack is living on the fringes of ‘normal’ society – a self-described bum, alcoholic, and sometimes-criminal – when he meets and falls for Della, a brilliant, independent teacher. Their love story develops slowly, and the odds are stacked completely against them, even if Jack himself wasn’t a mess. Their interracial relationship in a time when such was literally illegal gives the reader a glimpse at the hardships and discrimination faced by people in that time that, sadly, still resonates today.

Like the other books in the Gilead series, Jack is an introspective, melancholy read. It deals with complicated moral and spiritual themes, and it’s packed with emotion. I listened to an interview with Marilynn Robinson recently where she said this: “Nothing is minor… there is no meaningless human experience, there is no small life.  Meaning is situated differently in different experiences.” This truth resonates throughout the Gilead novels, and has made for truly memorable reading experiences for me. Nothing much actually happens plot-wise, and when it does, it’s slow to develop, but I’m just so engrossed in the lives of these characters, I don’t even notice.

Thank you to NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for my ARC copy in exchange for this honest review. I’m ordering a copy for my shelves to complete my Gilead collection.